Recently Massachusetts police have been having a hard time controlling
the sale of tobacco to minors over the counter. According to statistics our
state has the worst problem with this than any other state in the union. So naturally anti-smoking activists want to throw more money at new legislation to toughen up laws and really "get serious" about teen smoking.
But nobody wants to see youngsters smoke, and we already have laws to prevent retailers from selling to them. We simply need to enforce the laws we already have on the books instead of throwing more money at new legislation. Any available money should be put toward health education, public service ads, and commercials. About the scariest of these was one in which a woman discusses how she started smoking at age 13, got addicted, and years later developed cancer. The final scene shows her putting a cigarette up to a hole in her throat.
Our focus should be to get kids to give up on smoking on their own or not start in the first place. There is an old saying that you can't legislate morality. You can however inform the public morality of young people by giving them the facts about smoking and letting them decide for themselves what to do. This what the anti-smoking activists do best, and it works better than indoctrination and bans in bars and taverns which can only serve to make the habit more attractive to young people by creating a sort of outlaw mystique around it. The message instead should be "This isn't cool, it is harmful to you, here are the facts." If the facts don't work, then we've got a bigger problem than just a law enforcement problem where retailers are concerned. No Smoking bans won't be the solution either, just look at how ineffective, and even counter productive Prohibition was. Attitudes have to change first, it will take time.
This essay was published in BostonNow October 18, 2007